Would you tell a starving person about the five course meal you just had for dinner last night?
How about telling your team about the bonus you’re getting when they have just been told the company has had a bad year and they won’t be getting anything?
OK then, what about trying to make your team work harder to “be helpful to the company” when they’ve just been informed that they will be let go in four weeks time?
Nobody in their right mind would do these things would they?
Well, yes they would. Unfortunately, these things happen because some leaders don’t think about the audience they are communicating with when they communicate.
Why you need to understand your audience
When communicating with your team, or even your colleagues, sometimes you need to be careful about what you say. This seems like common sense to many of us, but time and time again, I see issues arise because leaders speak before they think.
In a previous post I wrote about why empathy is so important in leadership, and this is very closely linked with being able to understand your audience.
You need to understand your audience when you communicate, because it is easy to put people offside when you say things that are contrary to how your audience feels. Failing to understand your audience is one of the easiest ways to alienate people and to lose their respect.
Obviously when you lose the respect of your team, you are going to struggle to get things done. Everything becomes more difficult when people don’t really want to follow your lead.
Failing to understand your audience will increase tension, reduce the tolerance of the people you are communicating with and damage morale. If you pride yourself on developing good relationships with your peers and team, then being able to understand your audience is critical in improving and maintaining rapport.
What is the best way to understand your audience?
The best way to understand your audience as a leader is to try to put yourself in their shoes when you are communicating with them.
There are a number of factors to consider when you are looking to understand your audience.
Understand your audience by taking note of recent events
Has something happened recently in your organisation or team that may require your communication to be adjusted?
Examples may be people being made redundant, not being promoted or not receiving their pay for two weeks due to a payroll system glitch. You need to take care to understand recent events to see how your team may be feeling before you communicate.
Understand your audience by considering your differences
Some of the worst blunders occur when a leader doesn’t consider differences in their situation when compared to their audience.
Are you a suit-wearing highly paid executive addressing factory workers on minimum wage? Perhaps you were allowed to attend a prestigious conference when your peers or team members were not allowed a similar benefit.
Considering these types of differences enables you to tailor your messages so as not to make any unfortunate blunders.
Understand your audience by talking to some of them beforehand
A simple way to understand your audience is to talk to some of them. Depending on the situation this could be an awkward conversation, but it is much better to hear concerns from a smaller subset of your audience before you say something silly to a wider group.
What are their aspirations or goals? How are they feeling? Are they angry about something? Are they being overlooked for opportunities to improve themselves? Do they feel like their concerns are being heard?
Listening to your audience is a great way to improve the chances of communicating effectively.
Admittedly, as I write this post I feel like a lot of this is common sense. However, I still observe leaders failing to understand their audience during communication. Perhaps common sense isn’t common.
However, it should be stated that there is a lot going on in most workplaces. It is easy for leaders to become distracted and to put less thought into their communication than they ought to.
Nevertheless, being able to understand your audience has never been more important. Being able to communicate effectively as a leader is one of the traits that will enable you to stand out.
You don’t need to be the most educated leader. You don’t need to be the smartest leader, or even the most confident. But taking the time to understand your audience when you communicate will make you a more effective leader than the smartest or most confident. This is because you’ll build rapport and gain respect more readily.
I don’t care how many fancy qualifications you have or what cars you drive. Being able to understand your audience matters more to your team.